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Varicose veins

A bulging section of blue, twisted vein on the back of a person's calf or thigh is a common sight 10–15% of men and 20–25% of women have visible veins. A varicose vein is actually a vein that has lost its elasticity. Its wall has become flabby, so that it easily becomes swollen with blood.

Who gets varicose veins

  • Varicose veins affect both men and women.
  • You can get varicose veins at any age (even as a teenager), but they are more likely as you get older. They tend to run in families.
  • Varicose veins may first occur during pregnancy because of hormonal changes that relax the wall of the vein and because of pressure in the veins from the expanding uterus (womb). After the baby is born, there will be a general improvement in the veins, but they often become worse again in later pregnancies.
  • The contraceptive pill makes varicose veins more likely.
  • Obesity and repeated abdominal strain (for example, from heavy lifting) may contribute.
  • A study in Denmark confirmed what is often suspected if your job involves standing or walking for long periods, you are more likely to develop varicose veins (Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2005;62:847–50). Long periods of sitting with the legs bent and crossed probably makes varicose veins worse.
  • Sometimes varicose veins occur after a serious thrombosis (blood clot) in the deep veins, because this may damage the valves at the main junctions.
  • It has been suggested that a diet low in fibre increases the likelihood of varicose veins (because if we are constipated we have to strain to open our bowels, which puts pressure on the veins), but this is unproven.

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Thursday, April 19th 2018


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Comments on this article

Posted by Optional on 18/03/2019 at 11:45

Thanks for the great advice, my wife has some varicose vein problems, so we've been looking at ways to treat them. It is nice to know that there are so many options for treatment ranging from therapy to laser surgery. Although, we'll probably have to find a specialist doctor first in order to find out which is best for her.

Posted by Cindy on 20/02/2017 at 05:43

Good day i am 20 years of age and i have veins that looks like stretch marks under my butt and all over my legs at first it was just a ankle swelling then i start noticing veins coming out .. my legs dont feel the same i worry about it day znd night my ankles are still swollen ... sometimes i can feel the blood flowing through my legs .. i really want my legs back

Posted by mel on 20/08/2015 at 02:28

I have had varicose veins since I was in high school. I still remember the sting and burn followed by a bulge "VEIN" popping up the same day. I have have multiple surgeries sclerotherapy vnus closer procedure. you name it. All it has done is cost money. It last for a few months then throw gas on a fire. I have them everywhere now. The pain is horrible. I wish i never messed with my veins. You are only given so many.. I don't want to ward anyone off but I will have to live with pain for the rest of my life. I hope everyone else has better luck than I did..

Posted by Linny on 03/03/2015 at 09:32

Well, I definitely have a big varicose vein in my upper right leg above my knee on the side of my leg. It is starting to become really noticeable. I feel "pressure" when I stretch down to touch my toes. I also feel this when I am sitting on the toilet. Sometimes I can feel it just walking. I don't consider it pain just discomfort. I also have a few spider veins in the side calf areas of both of my legs. I am a 28 year old woman. I am really not much overweight (about 10 pounds). I am active and love hiking for miles. I took birth control for 10 years. I feel like this is probably why I have these problems. I stopped taking birth control a few months ago but I think it's too late. If I had known I would have quit taking birth control pills before it affected my health... They really don't tell you about the possible varicose veins in the drug facts... NOT AT ALL. By the way I have not been to a doctor about this yet. (I try and avoid doctors). Unfortunately, I am going to have to make an appointment very soon...

Posted by Optional on 11/02/2013 at 10:21

painful knotty veains back of knee - what is the relief ?

Posted by Optional on 09/12/2011 at 05:50

Can you only get varicose veins in your legs or is it possible that you can have them in your forearms or wrists such as the radial artery? My vein in my left forearm has been bulging with itching and aching for the past week. I noticed that many of the causes are applicable to me.

Posted by Optional on 21/11/2011 at 12:59

i have varicous veins of n my both legs and i hate them wat pcocedure u think i should use

Posted by leslie on 08/10/2011 at 07:58

im 20 years old of age why i have varicose vein?someone told me that its better to put cold water,and someone told that its better to put hot water.idont know which them i need to follow.what is true?i need to cold or hot water?

Posted by Optional on 10/03/2011 at 02:23

I had my varicose veins removed with surgery 7 years ago Small procedure. In the hospital for only a night. Although I have noticed they are now coming back on the same leg. Its hereditary. There is also an injection you can get which goes straight into the vein and thins out the blood so the vein isn't so full of blood (the 'rope' looks decreases) I've also put a lot of pressure on my legs. 8 years of dancing up until I was 16 and the past 8 years standing every day working in retail ( which doesn't help)! I hope they don't get much worse as I get older. My dad has them very badly on both legs..

Posted by i wonder on 16/11/2010 at 01:44

are they dangerous cause i have red veins in the back of my leg i'm not sure if its varicose thought but it is red

Posted by Optional on 06/09/2010 at 09:07

all my questions on piles answered - interesting to note that they are not connected with having varicose veins. Have GP appointment tomorrow and website has proved very useful

Posted by jane on 15/06/2010 at 08:50

I have pcos my legs itch so bad that they hurt could this have somthing to do with my pcos? or could this be somthing elas?

Posted by Mary Dorwish on 22/05/2010 at 06:48

I'm glad i came upon this website. i must say it is quite informative and helpful. I am a 21 year old, but what bothers me most is; i have varicose veins on my legs and i am really worried about how it will affect me in the future because it hurts especially if i walk for long hours. do you know if surgeries can be done for this? the Varicose veins shows up brightly on my legs because i'm fair skin . however it is not so big but what i noticed it just pains when i lift heavy things or walk for long hours and then the color brightens. someone help?

Posted by Mrs u on 07/04/2010 at 06:50

I have a fairly large varicose vein at the back of my leg which aches terribly - particularly when the weather is warm, or I have to stand for any length of time. Can I get it treated on the NHS? if so what does the procedure involve? if not, what can I do to make living with it easier? HELP!

Posted by Optional on 24/02/2010 at 01:57

I found this information very quickly however site did not explain why veins become itchy. Only said "Do not scratch" which is almost impossible. Did find that when veins itchy if elevate legs this seems to ease the itching.


View what people have said about varicose veins

Fascinating facts

Varicose simply means swollen

Varicose veins are the price we pay for our upright posture; if we still walked on all fours, we probably wouldn't have them

One person in five has varicose veins or is likely to get them

Varicose veins usually develop slowly over 10-20 years

Recent research has found that varicose veins are more common in men than in women

60 000 people in England have hospital treatment for varicose veins every year

Varicose veins are more common in Wales than anywhere else in the world

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